The death of Phillip Hughes, the 25-year-old Australian cricketer, is a devastating tragedy, for his family and friends, for Australian cricket, and for everyone around the world who follows the game. Hughes was struck on the head by a short rising delivery in the course of a Sheffield Shield game, the Australian equivalent of the English first class county game. He doubled over for a moment and then collapsed face-first to the ground, never to regain consciousness.
There is and has always been a vast, unspoken violence to the game of cricket. It is not immediately obvious, but is recognised and felt by anyone who has ever played it. A new cricket ball is about the size of an adult fist, as hard as a rock and is bowled by one person at another from a distance of 22 yards. When the bowler is quick, this can be nothing short of terrifying. The ball that hit Hughes was travelling at around 90 mph.
The habit in the game has been to make something of a joke out of these physical risks. Old England pros of the 70s and 80s laugh as they tell stories of touring the Caribbean, and how they tore dressing room furniture to pieces in order to stuff their clothes with protective padding, so afraid were they of the lightning fast West Indies bowlers. Mike Gatting, the former England cricket captain was hit in a tour of West Indies, the ball striking him in the face with such force that a piece of bone from his nose was found embedded in the ball. But at the following press conference when Gatting spoke to journalists—a huge black bruise on the bridge of his nose—and was asked where exactly the ball hit him, the room collapsed in laughter.